A Biblical Justification for Accepting Homosexuality in the Church
© 2003, John P. Nordin

8.  Homosexuality is not inherently a sin

A.  The Picture of an obedient Christian

The picture painted of the Christian by our investigation so far would be someone like this.  A person who loves God and the neighbor, being particularly concerned about justice for weak and vulnerable neighbors.  A person who shows obedience to God and seeks God’s will for their life.  A person who understands their besetting sins and works to avoid situations where they are tempted to sin.  A person who gives central place to the Bible and works to understand its meaning for their lives and those close to them.  A person whose interior life is not at variance with the picture they give to the world and who is not hiding behaviors or parts of their life.

Do we see that when we look at homosexuals who say they are Christian, as much as we see it when we look at heterosexuals who say they are Christian?

B.  Changing our minds

Could the church really change its opinion on homosexuality without totally abandoning all it has stood for 2,000 years?

To some the question is impossible of any answer at all: the church does not change, not on anything important.  But, how interesting it is that within the pages of the New Testament we see the church changing its mind on two issues.

Within the pages of Acts and the letters of the New Testament are recorded debates in the early church over the eating of food consecrated to idols (1 Corinthians 8) and the admittance of Gentile Christians to full fellowship without them first converting to Judaism.  In both cases we can hear echoes of current disputes.  The conservatives wish the church to hold to its historic tradition and are concerned about a lowering of standards if the rules are changed.  Neither concern is foolish on the face of it.  But a majority of the followers of Jesus were convinced to change.

In both cases, there were compromise, or rather, a deeper understanding of what was important and what was not.  You can eat food consecrated to idols, Paul says, but don’t cause problems for those who aren’t as clear on your freedom to do so.   Gentile Christians can be admitted without circumcision, but some rules must be kept.

As I have before, I call attention to the type of material in the Bible.  I believe that the recording of these stories of conflict and change in policy are also part of the revelation the Bible has for us.  They guide us to how we should change the policy of the church.

While not on a par with the Biblical witness, the Protestant Reformation also contains the record of changing direction and on an issue of sexuality.  In the late medieval church, the vows of celibacy taken by clergy were routinely flouted.  Many clergy had open relationships with women and publicly acknowledged children.  Luther’s rejected this practice, even though the church cited scripture in its defense. 

C.  Homosexuals: the new Gentile Christians

Richard B. Hays presents a striking analogy, comparing homosexuals to Gentile Christians: “… the experience of uncircumcised Gentiles responding in faith to the gospel message led the church back to a new reading of scripture.  This new reading discovered in the tests a clear message of God’s intent.” [1]  

But, can we do that?  Can we look at the behavior of people and decide on the law?  Isn’t that backwards, isn’t the law is given by God?

So we now need to draw up various threads that have been launched over the course of this paper and speak directly of a principle of interpretation that has been alluded to previously, and that is the question of "history" vs. "revelation."  Should we look for moral behavior to be "revealed" by being stated in a law of holy writ, or is it in some sense "historical" - requiring some research or an examination of human life?  Specifically, should we seek an answer on homosexuality by looking for God's definitive word on the subject, or must we include the lives of gay and lesbian people as part of the material for the answer”

It would seem wise to reject history in favor of revelation to avoid complete subjectivity or self-deception.  And I, in chapter 2, rejected homosexual’s use of their own sense of “rightness” about their lives as proof for accepting homosexuality. 

However, there have been other aspects raised.  What observations 2 and 4 suggested is that there is a revelation, and that the revelation is that you must look at the result of behavior, the result in terms of obedience to God. [2]   Observation 2 forces us to consider our own behavior, observation 4 gives a criteria for the examination.

While this argument appears to open the door to any behavior the person wishes to justify, this is not the case for at least two significant reasons.  First lies in the high standard the scriptures put forward and the comprehensiveness of the examination.

But more fundamentally, this is not a license to self-delusion because the isolated private self is not the arena of debate.  Instead it is the community that must do the examination and have a public debate about the consequences of a behavior.  So we do examine the experience of homosexuals, not their experience in being attacked by the church, but their spiritual journey, especially those with a long history in the church.  How has their experience in Christianity shaped their view of their sexuality? 

Of course, the individual and the community will be prone to deceive itself for its own benefit.  Particularly in the modern church context, the community is prone to regard “self-affirmation” and “growth” as synonyms for “obeying God.”  The community cannot make this decision in isolation from a religious framework of the law and the gospel.  Thus, we do need the principles of the law.

Nor can the conservative opponents of homosexuality really object to this approach.  They have made attacks on gay promiscuity and other empirical judgments about gay life a centerpiece of their identification of homosexuality as sin.

But it is crucial to understand that this change is not because homosexuals are “nice” or because they “have been hurt” by the church or even because of secular justifications such as a desire to be “inclusive.”  Hays again:  “Only because the new experience of Gentile converts proved hermeneutically illuminating of Scripture was the church, over time, able to accept the decision to embrace Gentiles within the fellowship of God’s people.” [3]

Thus what we need is not gays telling stories of self-affirmation.  What we need is homosexuals discussing their spiritual journey, their fidelity to God and, this is critical, what temptations to passion exist as homosexuals.  The encounter with a Christian homosexual should lead us non-homosexuals back to scripture to read it again.

D.  What about the homosexual proof texts?

If we at this point, say, all that is fine, but what about Leviticus 18?, then this essay has not been read carefully.  Without repeating the entire paper, it can be restated that what has been argued prior to now is the position that the entire Bible controls the few texts, not the other way around.  We may briefly summarize our reasons for downgrading the significance of several key proof-texts:

Genesis 1 is said to give preference to marriage between a man and a woman.

            The hermeneutical principle for this conclusion is not stated in the Bible.

            Other conclusions from this principle are not accepted by the church.

Leviticus 18 prohibits homosexuality.

            The specifics of the Levitical code are not binding on us.

            This specific law is not needed to protect the community or to keep people close to God.

            The themes of the Law that define sin would not include this activity.

Romans 1 rejects homosexuality for being unnatural and the result of disobedience to God.

            Paul makes an appeal to logic which is not valid.

            Homosexuals are no more disobedient to God than heterosexuals.

The proof-texts then, are not the only word on the subject.  They are contradicted by the sweep of the Bible, don't agree with what we see in the lives of gays, and thus the Bible, and the method prescribed by the Bible demand we regard them as no more normative than verses about menstruation or slaves taken in battle.

E.  Homosexuality is not inherently a sin.

Is homosexuality a sin?

Self-indulgence is a sin.  But the relationship of two people of the same sex may or may not be self-indulgent.

Abusing the neighbor is a sin.  But the exploration of relationships among homosexuals as they search for partners, evaluate their existing formative relationships, and relate to each other may or may not be abusive.

Disobeying what God commands in the Bible is a sin.  But, we have biblically-derived criteria for assessing and applying specific commands by reading them against larger themes.

Turning your back on God is a sin.  Homosexuals are often among those who have turned their back on the church, and may be sinning because they also rejected the God they found in church.  The church needs to be in mission to homosexuals with the message of Jesus and who God really is.

Yielding to your passions, even celebrating them is a sin.  Homosexuals do include those who have done this.  But it is not an inherent aspect of being gay.

Since we see people who have dedicated themselves to God, and for whom their gay sexual life is integrated into that decision and we see that their sexuality does not draw them away from church we must conclude that being and living gay is not a behavior in and of itself that produces pain to the neighbor and leads one away from God.

By the criteria the scripture sets for us for what is godly life, and by the reasoning scripture asks us to employ, homosexuality cannot be described as against God’s law.

If this seems like a rather quiet sort of justification for homosexuality, then perhaps it is because the grand clichés of this debate have been shouted at us for too long.  But look at the Bible: it's demands and vision cut across all categories, not staying on the surface but "penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart,” [4] rejecting all forms of self-justification, all forms of attack on the "other" and all forms of escape from God's assessment of our behavior.  How on earth could we have ever thought that a series of flat rules was all God wanted to tell us on morality? 

[1] Hays, Moral Vision, p. 397

[2] Consider for example, Jesus’ command to “judge for your self,” in Luke 12:57.  Admittedly, this may be read as a rhetorical question.

[3] Hays, Moral Vision, p. 399.

[4] Hebrews 4:12